TOFWERK Partners with Colorado Researchers to Study Air Quality Effects from the Recent Marshall Fire

marshall fire air quality effects

Superior, Colorado, USA
January 19, 2021

On December 30th, 2021, the Marshall Fire devastated more than 1,000 homes in Superior and Louisville, Colorado, near the TOFWERK USA office in Boulder.

TOFWERK’s Head of Applications, Dr. Abigail Koss, and our mobile Vocus Elf CI-TOF – accompanying Vocus 2R CI-TOF (CIRES) and a custom TOFWERK-based PTR-MS (NOAA) – have been actively working with researchers from CIRES, CU Boulder, and NOAA to understand the impact of smoke on air quality for the surviving homes and surrounding community.

OFWERK’s Dr. Abigail Koss and a mobilized Vocus Elf preparing to record mobile measurements onsite. Superior, Colorado.
TOFWERK’s Dr. Abigail Koss and a mobilized Vocus Elf preparing to record mobile measurements onsite. Superior, Colorado.

Existing research on the impacts of smoke is largely focused on wildfires that burn vegetation. The Marshall Fire is different as it was fueled by a diversity of building materials, vehicles, commercial structures, and other man-made materials, releasing fine particles and gases that have not been widely studied.

Given the proximity of this fire to TOFWERK USA and leading atmospheric scientists at CU Boulder and NOAA, the study mobilized quickly. A Vocus 2R was installed in a local residence on January 8th, taking continuous, 24/7 measurements, in addition to a custom Vocus S taking measurements from a mobile laboratory. Other instruments were installed in ten other local residences. These measurements are being used to measure the ambient concentrations of harmful chemicals and to assess the success of various smoke mitigation techniques – opening windows, using filters, etc. – attempting to answer the ultimate question for homeowners: “When is it safe to return back home?”

Scorched remains of vehicles and structures from the Marshall Fire.

Indoor air quality is not the only interest for researchers. The scorched earth and burnt objects continue off-gassing, affecting the air quality for surrounding communities. Three weeks after the fire, a smoky smell is still perceivable outdoors. What objects and materials are responsible for the odor, and are the concentrations harmful? On Sunday, January 16th, a mobilized Vocus Elf was deployed to investigate external structures and materials to document the compounds that are now directly mixing with the atmosphere.  

Researchers taking Vocus Elf measurements at the burned playground from the Marshall Fire site.
Researchers taking Vocus Elf measurements at a burned playground from the Marshall Fire site.

Results will be reported to local and state health officials, and to the participating homeowners, to improve decision making and response to the Marshall Fire and others like it. Additional information on the Marshall Fire and this research initiative can be found at:

The Boulder County Disaster Assistance Center

CIRES Article: How Does Marshall Fire Smoke Affect Indoor, Outdoor Air Quality?

9News Report: CU, NOAA researching air quality in Marshall Fire area

Fox 31 News: CU researchers testing air quality of homes near Marshall Fire

CPR News: The Marshall fire burnt whole subdivisions and shopping centers. Are the ashes an air quality threat?

KGNU News: Morning Magazine – Wednesday January 19, 2022

KGNU News: Morning Magazine – Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Eos (Science News by AGU): Crowdsourced Science Helps Monitor Air Quality in Smoke-Damaged Homes

Preliminary Results:

9News Report: Smoke damage raises questions about safety for homeowners after Marshall Fire

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